by Dr. Monroe Mann, PhD & Founder of Break Diving’s Fluency Project
(c) 2017 by Monroe Mann
Great news! Yes, there is a secret to becoming fluent in a foreign language!
Better news! I am about to tell you exactly what it is.
One of Break Diving’s missions is to help people truly master a foreign language. We do this through our program known as The Fluency Project, and the method used is one that I have discovered to be the holy grail of language mastery.
First, let’s talk about what does not work:
-using an app or computer program will not make you truly fluent–how many people do you know who have become fluent through a language app?
-going to a group language class will not make you fluent–most classes don’t even give you twenty minutes to have real conversations.
-going to live in a foreign country will not make your fluent–look at all the foreigners living in the USA who don’t speak English, and American expats overseas who barely speak the host country’s language?
All of these tools will help you, but they alone will not come even close to where you need to be and what you need to do.
So my point is this: there are a lot of people out there who say they want to become fluent in a language, but refuse to do the truly hard work necessary to do so. What is that truly hard work? Think about when you were in middle school or high school. What did the teachers make you do in your native language? Let’s say it was English.
First, you had to use English every day, for hours and hours on end. You spoke to virtually everyone you met in English. On your breaks, you were still speaking English. You read books. A lot of them. You had summer reading and had to trod through about five summer reading books each year, and then you read another five during the school year, right? But you also had to write essays on what you read. Not one sentence answers–full blown 2 – 20 page essays. With perfect grammar. And how about those oral presentations? And the school plays? And the sports teams and other after school activities?
Here’s my point: 99.9% of people who say they want to speak a language fluently never come even close to doing the work actually necessary to get there. I’m talking about those four crucial disciplines that define fluency: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. If you can’t do all four at a fluent level, then you are not fluent.
Here’s another test: think of some specific items that most people know how to say in their native tongue. For example: flagpole, cable box, battery charger, dog leash, dock cleat, a braid, rocket ship, etc. These are not ‘advanced’ words. These are words that most high school kids will know. And yet… can you say them in the language you are studying? Most people can’t say them all. Why? Because their vocabulary is terribly deficient. Anyone who truly wants to become fluent needs to max out their vocabulary, learning tens and tens of words every week. Otherwise, fluency will never happen.
I often find it interesting that many people do not understand native-tongue radio broadcasts or audio books, and yet are perplexed, refusing to recognize that it’s because they just don’t have the vocabulary to make the comprehension easy. Mastering grammar is frankly just a small part of the puzzle–the bigger piece is force feeding that brain of yours with so much vocabulary that you have no difficulty understanding what others are saying-and using that vocabulary constantly.
So what’s the secret to fluency then?
That sounds so simple, right? And it is. But very few language learners really do what is necessary. And even fewer language schools impose the discipline and require the type of hard work necessary. Why? It’s not profitable. It’s a lot easier to get a bunch of beginners who are just dabbling than it is to find truly devoted language learners who will do what is really necessary.
And this is what’s necessary:
When I say read, I mean READ! Read a new novel each month. Read the entire newspaper cover to cover every week. And… look up every single word that you don’t know. And… practice them! Just looking them up once is not enough. You need to commit them to memory! And memorize the way people speak, and the cool sentences that you know you’d want to use in the future.
When I say write, I mean WRITE! Write letters to friends. Write book reviews. Write short essays. Write a full term paper on a subject that means something to you! And… get them corrected! Writing is important, but you also need to be sure that you are using the words and grammar correctly. Write! Constantly!
When I say listen, I mean LISTEN! Listen to the language every day in your car. Stop listening to music and start listening to audio books. And the radio. Watch movies! Watch television. Watch YouTube. Even if you don’t understand, keep doing it. Eventually, as your vocabulary grows, so will your listening comprehension. And listen to others, live, talking to you! Go watch live speakers in the language you are studying.
When I say speak, I mean SPEAK! Speak to yourself. Speak to your family. Speak to your friends! Give speeches. Give speeches that you wrote yourself! Get involved with a play. Talk to people on the phone. Have skype video chats. Have lunch and only speak the language you are studying.
Folks, the list goes on and on. The truth is: most of you reading this don’t do even 25% of this. And most of you never will. And that’s okay–it just means that becoming fluent isn’t that important to you.
But for those of you who truly do want to become fluent… you need to start doing what I prescribe up above.
You have two options:
1. You can do it yourself. But you’ll have to find all the events, find others to speak with, determine which words to learn, etc.
2. Come join us at Break Diving’s Fluency Project!
Truly, it’s so much more fun to do it with others! If you are interested in awesome affordable language learning programs that incorporate the philosophy outlined above, come join the Fluency Project!
Let us know you are interested by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, the language you are studying, your current level, and your location! Someone will get back to you asap!